At the FA Cup Final, Wembley goes beyond Wi-Fi for mobile coverage

In this guest blog, Anthony Sutton from Cobham Wireless discusses how venue owners can maximise visitor satisfaction by improving mobile network availability.

It’s match day! You’ve managed to get tickets to the biggest sporting event in the calendar year; you’ve navigated queues to get into the stadium and spent a small fortune on a burger and a drink. You get to your seat, and reach to your phone to share the action with your friends and family and check the team line-ups … but you’ve hit a brick wall.

You struggle to share your experience over WhatsApp and Facebook, or even gain the basic 2G or 3G internet connection needed to check the BBC Sport website for the latest team news. The mobile connection is infuriatingly slow as a result of thousands of other supporters using their phones for similar purposes, exhausting the network’s bandwidth. Furthermore, the physical infrastructure of the stadium obstructs mobile phone signals, impacting the quality of coverage.

This is a frustration that many sporting spectators experience, making it difficult for mobile phone users to find their friends in a packed arena, post to online social groups or keep the track of the score in concurrent games. Failing to provide reliable mobile phone coverage can tarnish the reputation of a stadium and seriously diminish the spectator experience.

With the FA Cup Final taking place this weekend, Arsenal and Chelsea fans will be traveling to Wembley with hopes of capturing their experience of this showpiece and sharing it over social media to envious friends and family. Fortunately for these visitors, Wembley Stadium’s owners have taken measures to ensure that fans receive good 4G and 3G connectivity, regardless of the high demands placed on the network.

Distributed antennae add mobile depth

Wembley selected mobile network operator EE to install a system that could provide visitors with the reliable, superfast connectivity that people take for granted in most other venues.  This weekend, football fans will experience first-hand the benefits of a DAS (distributed antenna solution), which enables high-capacity 2G, 3G and 4G wireless coverage. This makes the solution an ideal choice for environments such as stadiums in which a great number and density of users access a network simultaneously.

Other stadium owners are also making investments to improve mobile connectivity for visitors. For example, Lords offers Sky’s Cloud Wi-Fi, Twickenham’s 2014 renovation included Wi-Fi deployments and England’s Football League also announced last year that free Wi-Fi was coming to venues.

However, turning to Wi-Fi for mobile connectivity is not a winning solution. Typically, to access these services a visitor would have to fill out online forms and provide personal data. Most people much prefer to connect with their native mobile operator without the hassle of registration and security implications of connecting to a public Wi-Fi network; a service which is usually severely impacted by poor connectivity speeds.

Stadium owners should instead follow in Wembley’s footsteps and invest in DAS, which divides coverage into sectors in a given environment. This allows mobile operators to overcome the challenge of providing indoor coverage to the whole stadium, by treating the project as a collection of smaller challenges. Multiple base stations send radio signals to an Optical Master Unit (OMU), converting the signals into light, before distributing via fibre to one or more remote units within each sector. This flexible approach helps provide both coverage and capacity solutions; seamlessly channeling mobile operators’ networks into inherently difficult locations.

With a summer of sporting events and music gigs planned, visitors to Wembley needn’t worry about access to high-quality coverage. However visitors to some other stadiums may not be so confident. Failing to provide adequate coverage means that stadium owners are missing out on an easy win.

Following initial investment, a system like that used at Wembley will deliver operational and capital savings to stadium owners in the long run. The cost of adding additional capacity or extending geographical reach further down the line is low in comparison with other systems.

Mobile users now expect to connect to mobile services reliably and quickly, whenever and wherever they are. This is of particular importance in a stadium environment, and can greatly impact the quality of fan experience.

Anthony Sutton is director of coverage at Cobham Wireless